“The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of the blessings. The inherent blessing of socialism is the equal sharing of misery.” Sir Winston Churchill.
Aside from a few odd social experiments, such as Hugo Chavez’ Venezuela, or Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe (identical except for the fact that Chavez can maintain his worker’s paradise through oil profits and Mugabe has nothing), Socialism has been proven an embarrassing failure that few wish to revive.
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 we are all Capitalists of one sort or another. The difficulty now is over our philosophy of Liberty and of the best manner to bring it about.
The philosophy of Liberty can be (heavily) summarised as the belief in individual rights and the equality of opportunity. So far, so good. Now … how does that happen?
On the (let’s call it) Left are the Liberals who believe that human beings are either too foolish or corrupt to ensure equality of opportunity and that only a just government can ensure such a right. On the (okay, okay) Right are the Libertarians who believe that, while individuals are occasionally stupid and shortsighted, that is nothing in comparison to a government attempting to impose a right by force.
Liberals believe that governments, acting fairly and with the best interests of the majority, can bring about maximum equality of opportunity. Libertarians believe that individuals, acting fairly with others and with their own self-interest to guide them, will â€“ however accidentally – achieve the best possible outcome for the largest number of people.
The debate, ultimately, is over the size of a government and the level it intrudes into the interactions between others.
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience,” said C. S. Lewis
Here’s the contradiction: libertarians are libertarian up to their own borders, then they become liberals; and liberals are liberals up to their borders, then they become libertarians.
Consider the following example:
President Thabo Mbeki is a big believer in the power of government to intervene to create equality of opportunity in South Africa. He has passed into law large-scale affirmative action policies, lending schemes whose sole qualification is race, and government will only do business with those who are considered “historically disadvantaged”. Yet he has no interest whatsoever in the sufferings of those just across our border in Zimbabwe, declaring that we have no right to even express an opinion over Zimbabwe since they are a sovereign state. More fancifully, he has left 15% of the population to deal entirely with the consequences of their own decisions that caused them to become HIV positive.
He is both a liberal and a libertarian; depending on the circumstances.
How often does this happen amongst other liberal or libertarian groups?
“A traffic jam is a collision between free enterprise and socialism. Free enterprise produces automobiles faster than socialism can build roads and road capacity.” Andrew Galambos.
And he was right. Those jams of confusion are where contradictions come to rest. And those contradictions are concentrated at the border. The borders between your country and everyone else’s.
It seems astonishing that those who are most appalled by government behaviour at home wish their own government to intervene in the internal policies of others. It also seems that those most desirous of government intervention at home loathe the chance that their government’s may intervene in the policies of others.
This is not consistent.
The most obvious inconsistency is over Iraq …
Let’s start with US President George W Bush. Here’s a man who wants to reduce taxes and government intervention at home but has demolished the Iraqi government and replaced it with his own.
Opposing him are the Democrats and Liberals. People who want more government control of their own economy, greater regulation of business and of lifestyle yet disagree vehemently over the extension of such policies to others. They want to scrap NAFTA and veto the WTO.
George Bush has attempted to extend US values to a whole plethora of nations; from Iraq to Afghanistan, to Iran and North Korea. And he has increased the size, scale and might of government to do so. We have to take him on his word when he says this: he did this to bring about democracy. What higher liberal value can we have?
And the people that disagree declare that we have no right to intervene in the lives of others. That other countries are not our property and that our intervention is unjust. What higher libertarian value can we have?
Inherent contradictions always result in chaos. Chaos in Iraq. Chaos in US politics. Chaos in Zimbabwe. Chaos at our borders.
Contradictions cannot be maintained for long in an orderly fashion. Not without massive expenditure and waste of resources. When the oil price turns Hugo Chavez will find out exactly what he has bought for Venezuela.
One can disagree over how effectively government can intervene to bring about equality of opportunity, and prevent force or fraud. But one must also choose a side and then remain consistent lest you be caught lying to yourself.
If you believe that only government has the ability and responsibility to intervene to ensure liberty then you must support that intervention no matter where it is to take place. The consequence of this is that the powers you give a government you support are still there for a newly-elected government you don’t.
If you believe that government has no place intervening in the freely made choices of others or to initiate force against others in order to change their minds then this you must also accept under all circumstances. The consequence of this is that you may find yourself doing business with nations who don’t believe in the same theories of Liberty that you do.
If you’re a Liberal be a Liberal; if you’re a Libertarian be a Libertarian. But don’t allow your own values to be contradicted at the border.
“I wanted to change the world. But I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself.” Aldous Huxley